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Othello is a North African “Moor” leading Venetian forces against the Turks of the Ottoman Empire in defense of the Venetian colony of Cyprus. Othello’s first appearance on stage allows readers to compare him with Iago’s slanderous portrait. Othello speaks with absolute self-possession and dignity and assumes that his merits will speak for themselves. He refuses to be drawn into violence by Brabantio and the mob who threaten him, and his behavior offers a striking contrast to Brabantio’s hysterical speeches. Othello offers a passionate and persuasive account of his wooing of Desdemona that nevertheless amplifies earlier intimations that his marriage is a cause of anxiety. He has previously associated entering into marriage with a circumscription of his identity and a restriction upon his freedom of movement. His description of why he loves Desdemona focuses exclusively on his utter investment in Desdemona’s love for him. When Desdemona frankly insists that she wishes to accompany Othello to Cyprus (and consummate her marriage), Othello supports her plea more cautiously, insisting that her presence will not detract from his warrior identity. Othello exhibits a certain self-division: his notion of himself as warrior-leader seems at odds with his imagination of himself as Desdemona’s husband. This will make him particularly vulnerable to Iago’s manipulations.
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